Rural Colorado Pediatrician Battles Economic Forces as Well as the Pandemic

Jennifer Sanderford, MD, FAAP

Dr. Jennifer Sanderford is the only pediatrician in three counties. From her practice in rural Crested Butte, Colo., it's a five-hour trip over a mountain pass to the closest children's hospital. 

"My kids are a generally healthy lot," Dr. Sanderford says. "But we are a hot spot as a resort area and have been in lockdown for five weeks now. My business is going under quickly."

Dr. Sanderford's business is down 95%, even though she instituted telemedicine immediately. 

"Most of my patients assume I am busy seeing sick children at the moment and have no idea that the practice is in trouble," she says.

Dr. Sanderford says she sees three to five patients in the office per week right now.  "These are all baby well checks or other non-ill follow ups. I have not had a single patient needing to be seen for coronavirus symptoms."

But she said she highly suspects many of her patients had COVID-19 in February and early March. 

"I ran two extra controls on my rapid flu test in February as I only had one positive among all the kids presenting with fever, body aches and cough during a six-week period," she says. "I also evaluated multiple children with abnormal pulmonary exams, but who were too old for bronchiolitis and had no personal history of wheezing. Many of their parents have since tested positive for the virus."

Meanwhile, she says she can't pay her bills for her last vaccine order, and other bills, like office rent, pile up.

"By the time my income stream drops off even further in May and June, due to payment cycles, I will likely have to close my doors and move out of my office space," she says.

"We have applied for paycheck protection and a few other programs but have no word on any of them yet."

Dr. Sanderford says taking out a loan to stay afloat is not an option, as she has no extra income month to month to eventually pay it off.

"We are heartbroken to know that this may be the end of a practice I worked 20 years to build, and one that is greatly needed by the community." 

Send in your COVID-19 pandemic story to our Story Bank, and we may share it here and on our social media channels. 

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

About the Author

Jennifer Sanderford, MD

Jennifer Sanderford, MD, is a board certified primary care pediatrician at Crested Butte Pediatrics in Crested Butte, Colo. She is also a board member for CB State of Mind, a mental health advocacy and suicide prevention nonprofit.